The Cubs have seven arbitration-eligible players heading into Monday’s 8pm ET deadline to tender contracts, but one of those stands out as far more likely than the others to be let go. With a projected salary of $5.1 million for 2020 and the team looking for ways to upgrade on the cheap, specifically at second base, Addison Russell may be in search of a new team.
While others from among that group of seven could well end up elsewhere via trade, Russell’s immediate fate appears clearest at this point. Of course, many folks thought that last season as well. The difference this time is an extra $2.4 million in salary for a player who has done nothing to reward the Cubs for sticking by him rather than making him someone else’s problem.
Not that the organization should be lauded for that, mind you, but the Cubs said from the start that they wanted to be part of the solution when it came to the scourge of domestic violence. That decision was perhaps made easier by the understanding that Russell’s trade value was nil coming off of a 40-game suspension under the league’s joint domestic violence policy. Then there was his dwindling potential to blossom into the player Len Kasper infamously called a “future MVP” during the 2017 World Series ring presentation ceremony.
It’s impossible to say whether and how Russell has grown as a human being since returning from his suspension, but he did nothing on the field to improve his trade value or justify a raise. Unless, of course, the bar had been set so low that simply not being involved in any additional public incidents was an improvement. At the same time, all-too-frequent misplays and the admission that he didn’t know the team’s signs more than nullified any default improvement in the perception of his character.
Even setting aside character flaws and mental gaffes, Russell’s performance at the plate showed nothing to indicate that previous seasons stagnation development were exceptions to the rule. Even in his breakout 2016 campaign that featured 21 homers and 95 RBI, a 95 wRC+ tells us Russell was 5% worse than the average MLB hitter. He’s not been better than 85 wRC+ since, posting marks of 80 and 81 over the last two campaigns.
That kind of poor offensive production is hard enough to justify when you’re playing a premium defensive position, but Russell has been displaced by Javy Báez at short and is utterly replaceable as a second baseman. Whether it’s Nico Hoerner, a veteran free agent, or a trade for Whit Merrifield — whose $4.06 million AAV would make him about $1 million cheaper than Russell — the Cubs have myriad options to improve while saving money.
And lest you think this is simply an opinion informed by some liberal agenda against Russell, MLB Trade Rumors lists him as the only Cub among 41 non-tender candidates (27 position players, 14 pitchers). But you know what all this means, right? Putting it out there as I have virtually ensures Russell’s return.
Taking emotion out of it, a parting of ways is probably best for everyone involved at this point. The Cubs can free up a little payroll space while also eliminating a major PR issue, Russell can get a fresh start. Without commenting on whether or not he’s deserving of that, it stands to reason that hitting the reset button could be a good thing for other people in his life. I will say, however, that the best thing for the well-being of Russell and those around him is not necessarily tied to him earning millions playing baseball.
Given everything we’ve seen from the Cubs and Russell over the last season-plus, nothing would be shocking at this point. So while a non-tender decision may be most likely, neither a trade nor an offer to work out a 2020 salary is out of the question. We’ll know one way or the other by Monday evening, with the Cubs’ decision saying a lot about their plans for the remainder of the offseason.